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Camp Battles 2012: Tight Ends

July 14th, 2012 Comments off
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Michael Palmer

The tight end position should feature some heavy competition throughout training camp for the Falcons, as the team looks to expand its depth behind long-time starter Tony Gonzalez.

The team made the decision to bring Gonzalez back for one more year last January, a smart decision considering his future Hall of Fame status. But one of the weaknesses of the Falcons position is that they do not have great depth behind Gonzalez. His heir apparent as the team’s future starter is currently not viewed to be on the roster. And part of the competition in camp will be to show if any viable long-term options emerge.

The most likely candidate will be Michael Palmer, who will get the first training camp of his career where he is largely untested for his roster position. Palmer will be a focus of this year’s camp. How well he performs as Gonzalez’s primary backup could determine how much trust this team has in their depth at the position. While Palmer isn’t currently viewed as a potential replacement for Gonzalez due to the sharp drop-off in receiving abilities, a strong summer could force the Falcons to reconsider their long-term prospects of Palmer’s future. He is seen mostly as a blocker and has been used that way each of the past two seasons, but that could change if he can have a strong summer as a receiver particularly if he gets more work with the first team units than in previous summers.

The brunt of the competition will come behind Palmer where the Falcons have multiple candidates competing for what will likely be the third and final spot on the depth chart. Tommy Gallarda, a second-year player, is the most experienced of the group having spent the majority of last year on the Falcons practice squad. The fact that he spent time in Jacksonville’s training camp last summer where Dirk Koetter got a good look at him should give him a leg up from the others in terms of making the roster. Gallarda is a blocker first, which is likely the role the Falcons envision for the third guy on the depth chart.

But he will face competition from undrafted rookies LaMark Brown, Adam Nissley, and Aron White. Brown is a converted former running back and receiver that has good athleticism and speed. But he’s undersized for a tight end at 228 pounds, and will have to showcase his receiving potential as an H-back. Nissley excelled at blocking at Central Florida and with his size he could push for a role there. White is an athletic tight end that worked primarily as a blocker for Georgia, but that was in part because of the other talent they had at the position. All three players have solid chance to make the practice squad and potentially the roster.

Even if any of the untested players make the roster the Falcons might minimize their playing time, instead opting to use a third tackle on gamedays to function as the extra blocker in jumbo packages. This is what the Falcons often did in 2010 when Palmer was a rookie, utilizing Will Svitek in that role. It’s also possible that when cuts begin in late August, the team will begin to scour the waiver wire for a more proven veteran, similarly to what they did a year ago by picking up Reggie Kelly during camp. The team already worked out veteran Daniel Graham in June, indicating that they understand there are some question marks at the position. Depending on how things play out in camp and the preseason will determine if those questions are answered down the line.

Falcons miss opportunity at tight end in draft

April 29th, 2012 1 comment

The Falcons exited their fourth consecutive draft without using a single pick on a tight end. They are among three NFL teams which have not selected a tight end since the 2008 draft. Those other teams include the New York Jets, who used a first round pick on Dustin Keller that year, the Carolina Panthers who added Gary Barnidge in the fifth round. That year, the Falcons selected Keith Zinger in the seventh round. Only three other teams have used less than two picks on tight ends in the past four drafts (New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Buffalo).

The Falcons squandered an opportunity because of the extreme likelihood that 2012 will mark Tony Gonzalez’s last season in the NFL. The Falcons could have taken advantage of Gonzalez’s veteran presence to help develop a young tight end. But alas, the Falcons will likely enter the 2013 will little at the position. They do still have Michael Palmer, who has served as a competent backup. But Palmer is limited as a receiver, as very few of his 15 career receptions have come when he had to beat and separate from man coverage. Until Palmer develops that ability, his prospects as a starting tight end don’t exceed that of Justin Peelle when he served in that role in 2008.

The Falcons added Adam Nissley as an undrafted free agent to join ones from last summer in Ryan Winterswyk and Tommy Gallarda. But all three are primarily blocking tight ends, leaving the Falcons devoid of any pass-catching presence to succeed Gonzalez next year. Next year’s free agent class is slated to feature Jared Cook (Tennessee), Fred Davis (Washington), Keller (Jets), and Heath Miller (Steelers). And Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Stanford’s Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo (all rising juniors), along with senior Joseph Fauria (UCLA) are likely to be considered top prospects in the 2013 Draft at the position. All that means that the Falcons could very well wind up with a good starting tight end to replace Gonzalez next year, but still the team missed an opportunity to have Gonzo’s vast knowledge, experience, and work ethic rub off on some promising youngster this year.

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Falcons re-up with DeCoud

March 6th, 2012 Comments off

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Falcons have agreed to terms with safety Thomas DeCoud, who was on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent next week.

Terms of the deal were undisclosed. DeCoud has been a starter for the Falcons at free safety since 2009. He was a third round pick for the team in 2008, playing exclusively on specail teams as a rookie. In 2009, he was elevated to the starting lineup and had 68 tackles and 3 interceptions. This past year, he posted career highs with 85 tackles and 4 interceptions.

Earlier today in other free agent-related news, the team announced that tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith had signed their exclusive rights tenders. Both player as players with two years of experience were tendered at the $540,000 level. Both players will be restricted free agents after the 2012 season.

UPDATE: Schefter reports that the terms of DeCoud’s deal are $17.5 million over five years with $4 million in guaranteed money.

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Free Agent Focus: Tight End

January 29th, 2012 Comments off
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Michael Palmer

After a short lay-off, it’s time to get back into what things to look out for in free agency at each position group. Now it’s time we take a look at the tight end position.

The Falcons were able to hold off on major shake-up at this position by extending Tony Gonzalez’s contract for one more year. It’s likely 2012 will be the swan song season for Gonzalez, who is desperately trying to win a championship, or at least a playoff game before he retires. Since it seems very likely that this upcoming season will be his last, the team must find a viable long-term replacement for Gonzalez.

It was once thought that could potentially be Michael Palmer. But Palmer has done little to justify such beliefs. While Palmer is a solid backup tight end, he has not shown the ability as a receiver to really justify any faith in him to be a viable starter going forward. He has a good set of hands, but has yet to show he can consistently beat man coverage, a requirement for any starting receiver. More than likely the Falcons can pencil in Palmer to perform a role similar to Justin Peelle which is a backup blocker, an area where he has shown improvement.

Reggie Kelly is a free agent, but he’s not expected back after contributing little for most of the season. This all should lead to the Falcons exploring their options to try and find some tight end depth this off-season with an eye towards a guy that can take over the reins from Gonzalez in 2013. It probably makes the most sense to target such a player in the draft but they could look at a few options in free agency.

The best player available is without question Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley. But most expect the Packers to slap the franchise tag on him, limiting his availability. The next best player is probably Washington’s Fred Davis. But he ended the season on a four-game suspension due to failing a drug test (marijuana), and is one more positive test away from a full-year’s suspension. That issue hanging over his head would likely hurt his marketability, making him a cheaper option for any team willing to take on that risk. But given the so-called Falcons Filter when it comes to issues of character, it’s unlikely they would be one of the teams willing to roll that dice.

The next group of starting-caliber tight ends are Martellus Bennett (Dallas), John Carlson (Seattle), and Joel Dreessen (Houston).

Bennett is a brash player known for some of his more out-spoken comments during his days in Dallas, but at the end of the day he’s a pretty good football player. He seems to be a player that is waiting for his opportunity to emerge from the shadow of Jason Witten, and his chance to hit the open market this off-season might be it. Unfortunately, Bennett is more of a blocker at this point in his career than a receiver despite excellent size and athleticism. His hands have been inconsistent at times, and he’s more in line with a good No. 2 than an effective No. 1 tight end. While he could represent a major upgrade over Palmer, it’s unlikely he could come close to filling the shoes of Gonzalez going forward.

Carlson missed all of this past year with a shoulder injury. Prior to the arrival of Pete Carroll, Carlson was a productive tight end in the passing game, tallying over 50 catches in his first two seasons in the league. But part of that may have stemmed from the lack of playmakers that the Seahawks have had on the outside. But he’s a player that can definitely be an effective starter and ideally an H-back, a role he did well with in Seattle. Dirk Koetter’s offense makes ample use of the H-back, and if the Falcons deem Carlson healthy, he might be a nice, solid option to pursue.

Dreessen has performed well as a replacement for an injured Owen Daniels over the past three years. Daniels has missed 14 combined games over the past three seasons, and in those games, Dreessen has combined for 43 catches, 561 yards (13.0 avg), and 3 touchdowns. Dreessen will turn 30 in July, but he’s a player that could fit very well in the H-back role here in Atlanta, although once again as a long-term replacement for Gonzalez, he might be limited.

If the Falcons are looking to try and find a better No. 2 option than Palmer to team with Gonzalez, they could do so in this free agent market. But in terms of strong candidates to be permanent long-term replacements for Gonzalez next year and beyond, this market appears limited. How important that No. 2 TE is could also be determined by how the team handles the fullback position. If Koetter favors more of a two-tight end based offense that marginalizes the need for a blocking back, it’s quite possible the Falcons could try to make a splash in free agency for an H-back, but also go after the heir apparent to Gonzalez via the draft as well. The Falcons definitely have options worth exploring in free agency, but more than likely will focus on the draft when it comes down to it.

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Grimes questionable for Giants game

January 6th, 2012 Comments off

While twenty players appeared on the Falcons Friday injury report, the majority of them were able to fully participate in the last two or three days of practice this week. Listed among the players that were not are linebacker Stephen Nicholas and cornerback Brent Grimes. Nicholas is doubtful for Sunday’s playoff game against the New York Giants, while Grimes is listed as questionable. Nicholas (turf toe) did not practice all week, and has missed four of the past five games with that injury. He is expected to be replaced by Spencer Adkins, who got his first career start last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Grimes missed both Wednesday and Thursday’s practices with his knee injury, but was able to go on a limited basis on Friday. Missing Thursday practice was considered a precautionary measure by head coach Mike Smith. Grimes missed last weeks’ reguar season finale after returning the week before against the New Orleans Saints. If Grimes is unable to go, then Dominique Franks would likely get the start at left cornerback. Before returning against the Saints, Grimes had missed three straight games, all of which he was replaced by Franks in the starting lineup.

Also listed on the injury report as probable were wide receivers Harry Douglas (groin) and Kerry Meier (groin), safety William Moore (groin), tight end Michael Palmer (knee), and running backs Jason Snelling (knee) and Michael Turner (groin). All except Snelling (limited participation) were held out of Wednesday’s practice. All would go on a limited basis on Thursday. Palmer and Snelling were able to participate fully on Friday, while the others still were limited.

For the Giants, linebacker Mark Herzlich was listed as out for the game with an ankle injury. Defensive end Justin Tuck was added to the injury report on Friday with a shoulder injury, but is probable for Sunday’s game. Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices, but returned on a limited basis on Friday. He is listed as probable along with tight end Jake Ballard (knee), running back Da’Rel Scott (knee), offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (ankle), defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee), and cornerback Corey Webster (hamstring).

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 12 “2012 Free Agency”

December 30th, 2011 Comments off

Ryan and I discuss 2012 free agency and going position by position to look at what prospective free agents that the Falcons could or should target. We each give a bevy of players that we think could be good additions to the team next year. During the course of our discussion, we touch on several current Falcons including Brent Grimes, Michael Palmer, Curtis Lofton, Ray Edwards, Joe Hawley, Mike Johnson, and Spencer Adkins.

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Mughelli to go on IR

October 25th, 2011 Comments off
ICON SMI

Mughelli celebrates vs. Carolina

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports tweets that the Falcons are going to place fullback Ovie Mughelli on injured reserve due to the knee injury he suffered on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The exact nature of Mughelli’s knee injury has yet to be disclosed. Earlier reports suggested that Mughelli’s season would not end. Per Zach Klein of WSBTV, Mughelli suffered a torn MCL, which is an injury that is rarely treated with surgery, and is known to be able to heal fully inside 6 weeks.

The Falcons brought in two free agent fullbacks: Mike Karney and Jason McKie today for workouts during their bye week.

Jason Snelling likely will be the team’s first option to replace Mughelli in the starting lineup. But if they sign one of those players, it might not be long before they are inserted in the lineup. The Falcons have also made ample use of the two-tight end set in past games where Mughelli has been limited, likely meaning more reps for backup tight ends Michael Palmer and Reggie Kelly.

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Falcons Need Periphery More Involved on Offense

October 12th, 2011 Comments off

On Sunday night, Falcon fans were treated to two things. The first was what a dynamic offense looks like in the form of the Green Bay Packers, and the other was glimpses of the same from the Falcons.

Aaron Rodgers connected with 12 different receivers over the course of Sunday Night’s game. Matt Ryan and the Falcons with 7. That’s not a low number, as 6 or 7 targets in the passing game is fairly typical at this level of competition.

The glimpses of this dynamic Falcon offense came on their first two series where they got five different receivers involved. They ran the ball as well, getting Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers opportunities there along with their usual handoffs to Michael Turner. The Falcons ran the rub route for Harry Douglas to success on 3rd down, something that should be used more often. Later in the game, Eric Weems even got a reception, his first of the year. The Falcons used misdirection very effectively and it caught the Packers defense off-balance early on. After those two drives, the Falcons did very little misdirection plays and I would say non-coincidentally the offense stagnated.

The Falcons have to try and get more weapons involved on offense to make it harder for opposing defenses to defend. One of the issues that teams have to deal with when they play the Packers is that you have to defend the entire field. If you focus on Jermichael Finley or Greg Jennings, then Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, or James Jones are bound to hurt you. Players like John Kuhn, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, and Alex Green have gotten a few touches on offense and also can become reliable outlets for Rodgers when those other more dynamic players are unavailable.

The Falcons should treat some of their lesser players similarly. Everyone knows about Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. The Falcons made some strides Sunday night with plays designed to Jason Snelling and Harry Douglas. Jacquizz Rodgers should be more involved than he was last week because he seems to be successful nearly every time he touches the ball. But what about players like Michael Turner, Ovie Mughelli, Michael Palmer, and Eric Weems? They aren’t dynamic options, but in the same mold as Kuhn, Crabtree, Williams, and Green they can add something to the offense when those other more dynamic threats like Gonzo and Jones are covered.

One of the things that hurt the Falcons on Sunday was their inability to stay on schedule and be successful on first down. They started too many drives 2nd & 10, 2nd & 8, and 2nd & 12, which tends to force you to go to your more tried and true options to try and get into a 3rd and manageable situation. Thankfully for the Falcons, they were very successful on those 2nd & Long situations getting the ball in the hands of many of those tried and true playmakers. But it is worth noting that on a 2nd & 13, Jason Snelling got 17 on a screen pass, and Rodgers got 11 on a pitch on 2nd & 12 early on. That suggests that going to White or Gonzo is not always necessary as the Falcons did on half of their 12 second downs where they had 6 or more yards to go to the sticks. On those 6 plays to either Gonzo or White, they were successful on 50% of them. On the 6 plays that did not go to that pair, they were successful on 83%. Those 6 other plays included two runs by Turner, his two best of the night for 8 and 15 yards, a 3-yard catch by Douglas, a 16-yard slant by Jones, and the previously mentioned plays by Snelling and Rodgers.

So it does seem that looking away from Gonzalez and White on occasion has been beneficial to the offense. Pretty much every game the Falcons have played this year, half of Ryan’s pass attempts go to those two players. Which is understandable because Ryan’s rapport is strongest with them and they are the two most reliable options in any given situation. But is that making the Falcons too easy to defend is the question that needs to be asked. Mularkey and Ryan need to put in more effort to throw the ball to other players. Whether that is Jones, Rodgers, Snelling, Palmer, Weems, or Reggie Kelly really does not matter. But I’m betting that regardless of which Falcon player is on the receiving end of those passes and designed plays, it will be beneficial to the offense like it was at various times this past weekend.

Moneyball 2011 – Week 5 Review

October 11th, 2011 Comments off

My vitriol for the play-calling on both sides of the ball in this game has subsided somewhat after reviewing the game. But I’m going to use this entry for Moneyball to vent a little about what I think are some of the problems that have plagued the Falcons this year, which are reasons why I think they have yet to reach their full potential on either side of the ball.

What disappoints me the most is that the Falcons did an excellent job with misdirection plays on their first two series, but pretty much stopped doing that as the game wore on and went back to a more traditional gameplan of just trying to “out-execute” the Packers defense, and it did not work. Ryan missed on a couple of throws, and the offensive line essentially could not handle that gameplan. Tyson Clabo had two drive-killing penalties on 3rd downs, Roddy White had another, Harry Douglas had a catch overturned.

Mularkey did a better job using guys like Douglas, Weems, and White to manufacture yards and stay on schedule in early downs, replacing rushing yards. The Falcons need to continue to do this. While Turner and the ground attack was effective early in the game, in the second half it stopped because just like the Seahawks, the Packers began to stack the box and the Falcons offensive line was unable to get enough push to spring a slow back like Turner. But Mularkey needs to do more of this with screens and quick throws to receivers in the flat. Doing this 2 or 3 times a game is not going to be enough given the Falcons blocking issues.

The offensive line had a nice game, giving Ryan much more time than he’s seen most of this year, but when push came to shove there were too many instances where Ryan was pressured which led to incompletions. Sam Baker’s missed block on Desmond Bishop on 1st down in the fourth quarter was the lone sack the team allowed. But it put the Falcons in a 2nd & 21, and Ryan got too greedy on the next play trying to get it all back and his throw to Gonzo was a few inches overthrown and led to the interception that pretty much ended the game.

I don’t even know why guys like Michael Palmer and Reggie Kelly are on the team. They have contributed next to nothing to this offense. The Falcons just need to go out and sign someone like Alge Crumpler, Ben Patrick, Chris Baker to try and add something to this offense as a second tight end.

The Falcons need to get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved. His quickness can potentially be an asset because he might be able to squeeze through those smaller creases that the offensive line can create that Turner cannot.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$10$0$0$0$0$10.00
Matt Ryan$6$0$0$0$0$0$6.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$4$0$0$0$4.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Julius Jones$0$2$1$0$0-$1$2.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$0$0-$1$2.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$3$0-$2$1.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$0$0$0-$1$1.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Reggie Kelly$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

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Babineaux, Abraham questionable vs. Packers

October 7th, 2011 Comments off

There is a fifty percent chance that the Falcons will see defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux return to the lineup this weekend against the Green Bay Packers, as he was listed as questionable on this week’s injury report. Babineaux suffered a sprained MCL in the season opener against the Bears and has missed the past four games. He participated on a limited basis in all three days of practice this week. Also listed as questionable is defensive end John Abraham. Abraham was added to the injury report on Friday due to a hip injury. If Abraham is unable to go, then it’s likely Kroy Biermann will make his first start of the season at right end. Peria Jerry has filled in admirably for Babineaux the past three games at left defensive tackle.

Fellow defensive end Cliff Matthews (knee) and center Todd McClure (knee) will be out this week. Neither practiced this week. McClure missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury, returning to the lineup against the Buccaneers in Week 3. But he re-injured his knee last week midway through the Falcons contest against the Seahawks. He will be replaced by Joe Hawley in the lineup, who has now logged two starts and extensive playing time in a third game so far this year.

Also returning the lineup should be linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who missed the past two games with a calf strain. He practiced on a limited basis this week and is listed as probable. Roddy White (thigh), Jason Snelling (concussion), William Moore (neck), Chris Owens (ankle), and tight end Michael Palmer (ankle) are also listed as probable, as all were able to fully participate in Friday’s practice.

For the Packers, right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), safety Nick Collins (neck), defensive Mike Neal (knee), and linebacker Frank Zombo (shoulder) are all out this weekend. Tight end Andrew Quarless (knee) is doubtful and linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) is questionable.